Darkness Falls

In “Darkness Falls,” Darkness Falls is the name of the town, like Bedford Falls in “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Kingston Falls in “Gremlins.” You can see how clever they are, because not only is the film about darkness falling, it’s also about a town called Darkness Falls!!!!!!!!!!

Which is a pretty stupid name for a town, really. Most towns with “Falls” in the name are so called because there’s a waterfall nearby. Are we to believe some pun-loving 19th-century fur-trapper or explorer stumbled upon a natural waterfall and decided to call it Darkness Falls? Whatever.

Anyway, this is beside the point, though it’s more interesting than what’s not beside the point, which is the movie, which is dull. According to the film’s narration, there was a woman 150 years ago named Matilda who loved children and would give them a shiny gold coin every time they lost a tooth. Now, 150 years ago, a gold coin was probably worth about $100 in today’s money, so you can imagine Matilda was very popular. She became known as the Tooth Fairy around town.

Then there was a tragic fire that burned up Matilda’s face and made her sensitive to light. Thereafter, she only appeared in public with a porcelain mask covering her horrid visage.

Then a couple kids went missing, so the townspeople killed Matilda. I don’t know why they did this; she’d always been kind and beyond reproach in the past. It’s not like they didn’t know why she wore that mysterious mask now, because they knew about the fire and everything. Probably helped her rebuild her house, even.

Anyway, for some reason mask-wearing Matilda was first on the list of suspects, so they hanged her, but before she died she placed a curse on the town. Next day, the missing kids turned up safe and sound — whoops! — and the secret of Matilda’s wrongful death was buried along with her.

So now it’s the present, and the legend in Darkness Falls is that when you lose your last baby tooth, Matilda the Tooth Fairy shows up in your bedroom, and if you see her face, she kills you. (If Matilda doesn’t want to be seen by people, then maybe she should just stay home, you know?) Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley) saw her as a child and managed to escape her, but his mom got killed. Now, he’s on tons of medication and draws lots of pictures of the Tooth Fairy and still can’t really get a good night’s sleep. On the plus side, I’m guessing his diligence in the field of oral hygiene has increased dramatically.

His childhood sweetheart, Caitlin (Emma Caulfield), calls upon him after all these years because her little brother, Michael (Lee Cormie), is experiencing extreme night terrors. He seems to fear the same phantasm that’s been haunting Kyle all this time. Can Kyle help?

Obviously not, since Kyle is still pretty screwed up himself. Still, they try to save themselves and the town in general from the Tooth Fairy, who for some reason that the movie doesn’t see fit to share with us has embarked on quite a rampage of random killing. You’d think if this was common behavior for her that someone would have noticed that townsfolk, especially children, turn up dead all the time. And if it’s NOT her ordinary way of doing things, you’d think the movie would tell us why she’s become more vicious now.

The Tooth Fairy’s M.O. is that she swoops suddenly into the frame, accompanied by shrieks and a jarring crash on the soundtrack. Rather than build suspense, first-time director Jonathan Liebesman prefers to “scare” us by making things leap out at us — terror by startling, in other words, rather than by actually making us afraid. (Have you ever heard the movie term “cat scare”? It’s when something frightens a character but then turns out to be something harmless, like a cat. Well, “Darkness Falls” has a cat scare that actually turns out to be a cat. I would not have been surprised to see a literal red herring lying around, too.)

But wait, I have even more issues with this film. The Tooth Fairy only strikes the town of Darkness Falls, as revenge for killing her all those years ago. This is grossly unfair. Even if you allow that the descendants of the perpetrators deserve to be cursed, too, why should people who have just moved into town, who have no connection whatsoever to the events of 150 years ago, be punished? And where, exactly, is the cut-off? Do people who live just outside the city limits but still have Darkness Falls mailing addresses count, or are they safe because they are not, technically, residents of Darkness Falls? It seems outlandish to curse a town rather than specific people, I guess is my point.

Also, what about all the other towns in America where parents tell their children about the Tooth Fairy? Is that figure a myth based on this actual malevolent being? Are we to understand that the Tooth Fairy we all grew up hearing about was actually a perversion of this very real, very fearsome monster?

Also, how, exactly, does she kill people? There are no fangs or claws to speak of, and the bodies, when we find them later, are not particularly dismembered, just bloody. I think maybe she just tosses them around.

Also, we know that light repels her, so where does she go? When she comes swooping in, it often appears to be literally out of nowhere. Yet other times, she is clearly shown hovering in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity. Is she subject to the laws of time and space? Can she disappear one place and reappear elsewhere, or must she travel? Both possibilities seem to be true at various times in the film.

Kyle’s job is mostly to run around yelling, “Stay in the light!” and “You have to believe me!,” both of which admonitions everyone ignores. Caitlin’s job is to believe what Kyle says and to look worried a lot. Little Michael’s job is to be a terrorized child, and who doesn’t enjoy watching that? If this film had any creative scare tactics or on-screen deaths, it might be passable. Instead, it’s just boring.

D (1 hr., 25 min.; PG-13, some mild profanity and one F-bomb, a lot of intense situations, moderate violence and blood.)